DISCLAIMER: "The Mentalist" is copyrighted to CBS and Bruno Heller. I retain rights to the plot, but not the characters. This story is meant for enjoyment purposes only. No infringement is intended.
TIMELINE: Set some time after season five episode, 'Red Sails in the Sunset'. Goes AU from there. Some minor spoilers.
SYNOPSIS: "We're up, guys. Another body has been found dumped along the 299 a few miles south of Willow Creek this time." Jane and Lisbon are forced into a deadly game when they try and catch a new serial killer.
"We're up, guys. Another body has been found dumped along the 299 a few miles south of Willow Creek this time. Male, shot multiple times. Looks like the same M.O. as all the others. It's going to be an overnighter so get your stuff and meet back here in five," ordered Agent Teresa Lisbon of the California Bureau of Investigations as she walked into the Serious Crimes Unit's bullpen carrying her own 'go-bag'.
Agents Cho, Rigsby and Van Pelt immediately began the process of closing down their stations while they gathered their things together in readiness to leave.
Lisbon looked across the room to where her blond consultant, Patrick Jane, was laying prone on his old brown couch and frowned. She walked over and looked down at him suspiciously. He appeared to be asleep, but having seen him truly in the arms of Morpheus many times before, she'd come to recognise when he was faking it.
He was definitely faking it now.
"Get up," the brunette commanded as she nudged the sofa.
"Can't you see I'm sleeping, Lisbon?" Jane murmured without opening his eyes.
"No. All I see is someone trying to avoid doing some work," she countered wryly. "Now get up. We've a long drive ahead of us."
He groaned and let out a dramatically long sigh before opening his eyes and pushing himself up to sit.
"Can't I at least have some tea first?" he asked hopefully.
"You're a hard woman, Lisbon," the blond grumbled as he got up and smoothed down his dark blue, three piece suit. "Denying a man one of the only things that gives him some small amount of pleasure in this harsh world of ours."
"Cut the crap, you know we'll stop for something on the way. Just get your stuff," she retorted with a roll of her eyes. She began to walk away then turned and added, almost as an afterthought, "And don't bring that damn notebook with you. If I have to listen to you going through your list again the whole way to the scene it'll drive me nuts."
She ignored the flash of annoyance that crossed his face at her last statement and stalked off to the elevator without waiting for a reply. His obsession with the serial killer, Red John, who had murdered his family had always been bordering on madness, but his latest insane stunts in order to get one of the murderer's accomplices, Lorelei Martins, to give him information had had him meander well over that invisible line.
Promising her leniency, breaking her out of prison, almost killing himself in a car crash, not to mention that she strongly suspected that he'd simply just let her go…the best lead they'd ever had to finding Red John. Gone.
And she didn't even want to start down the torturous, mucked up kind of illogical road that had made him decide to sleep with the crazy woman in the first place.
It had hurt enough just knowing he'd done the deed with someone else, she didn't need to punish herself with imagining it too. It's not like she and Jane were a couple or anything. Far from it…but still, he had said those words to her and now she found she couldn't let it go.
If she were honest with herself, she'd got to the point where she just wasn't sure how to handle him anymore. She was just so angry all the time, not only with him but the entire situation, that she could barely find it within herself to grace him with a civil word. It was making working together a nightmare but she couldn't seem to stop.
Maybe she should have just let him pretend to sleep after all. God knows, they could both do with the break, but at the same time she was worried what he'd get up to if she and the team weren't around to keep an eye on him.
Ever since Lorelei had told him he'd shaken hands with Red John, he'd become a walking time bomb. If he got it into his head that he'd puzzled out the killer's true identity, she knew he wouldn't wait around for them to come back. He'd be off hunting the person down all on his own, without back-up…without her to make sure he got out of it alive.
She gave an involuntary shudder at the thought.
"Feeling cold?" Jane's voice asked suddenly.
He was so close she felt his breath tickle her ear, making her jump. She'd been so deep in thought she hadn't even noticed his approach. Closing her eyes briefly, she willed her startled heart to slow down it's beating, although whether it was from the surprise or his nearness she wasn't quite sure. She took a step back to regain some distance and composure then turned her head and pinned him with her stormy, emerald green gaze.
"No. Just thinking of having to spend the next five hours alone in a car with you," she replied dryly before letting out an exaggerated sigh. "It's a dirty job but someone has to do it."
Her comment took the edge off of his friendly smile and the warmth in his blue eyes cooled.
"My, my, my, such piety in your resignation, Lisbon. You didn't just earn your nickname in San Francisco, you own it, my dear," he goaded tersely before walking off.
"Just where do you think you're going?" she demanded irately, refusing to allow him to see how much he'd hurt her feelings with his gibe.
"To the bathroom. It's a long journey," he answered curtly over his shoulder. "Unless you're going to deny me that as well?"
He didn't expect an answer and she didn't give one. Instead, she turned back to the elevator and jabbed the call button hard. He really was the most aggravating individual she'd ever met in her entire life and he knew exactly what to say to upset her the most. Usually, she didn't go out of her way to bait him but everything had been so off kilter between them lately that she'd thrown her usual caution to the wind. She should have known that he'd come back with something even more cutting.
The elevator door slid open and she entered the cabin gratefully. She felt drained just from their little altercation, how the hell was she going to cope all the way to the crime scene?
She reached the ground floor and stepped out through the foyer and into the parking lot. The air was warm but not too hot and she enjoyed the moment of being outside in the fresh air. Too many days in the office weren't good for anyone. She immediately thought of Jane holed up in his musty old attic, sitting hunched over the rickety desk as he obsessively flicked through his well-thumbed notebook. It wasn't a pretty image.
As she drew near her SUV, she saw that the rest of team were already in their own vehicle ready to head out. She glanced over and gave them a nod and tight smile then looked back over at the CBI building hoping to see Jane, but he didn't appear. She checked her watch and decided to give it five minutes then she was going to leave anyway. She couldn't force him to come along and quite honestly she couldn't be bothered to try anymore.
She opened her car then dumped her bag in the back before getting into the driver's seat. Once settled, she checked the glove box and under the seat to make sure she had her spare guns and clips…even though she already knew that she did. Then she checked that the directions she'd programmed into the satellite navigation system were correct…twice. Ten minutes later, after making triple sure she'd got everything she needed in her go-bag and that she had some cash, she decided to quit stalling and just leave. Jane wasn't coming.
She started the engine then signalled out of the window to the others and put her car in gear. Just as she was about to pull away, out of the corner of her eye she noticed her consultant sauntering out of the building, hands in pockets, as if he hadn't a care in the world.
The sunlight made his blond, wavy hair seem more golden than usual as he stopped a moment then closed his eyes and tilted his face up towards the sky. A small smile graced his features while he enjoyed the warmth for a few seconds before he took a deep breath then opened his eyes and resumed his leisurely pace.
Her lips pressed almost painfully together in annoyance as she put the car back into neutral and watched him approach. Part of her really wanted to simply drive away but the other part…the part that cared for him far too much just wouldn't let her do it.
"I hope I didn't keep you waiting?" he commented cheerfully as he finally clambered into the SUV.
Lisbon scowled at his flippancy but remained silent on the subject. Knowing him, he'd been watching her the entire time just waiting for her to make a move before he'd come out. She was used to his ways by now.
"Where's your stuff?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Right here," he answered with a smile, pulling a brand new, still packaged toothbrush out of one jacket pocket and a tube of toothpaste out of the other. "I keep a spare shirt in Rigsby's bag. He hasn't realised yet."
Lisbon shook her head then placed the car into gear and set off on their journey with the team close behind. If she were lucky he'd catch up on that sleep he'd pretended he was having for real. Unfortunately, her hopes on that accord were swiftly dashed.
"So, what do you want to talk about, Lisbon?" her consultant queried nonchalantly as he looked out of the window. "The case? The weather? The reason you're so angry with me lately?"
"I'm not," she automatically refuted, the irritation clear in her tone.
"Case in point," he countered casually, his gaze never leaving the passing scenery.
The dark haired woman bit back a retort and took a deep breath, trying to calm her agitated nerves.
"Let's just listen to some music, shall we?" she suggested, her voice overly sweet and slightly patronising.
If there was one thing Jane disliked more than Lisbon being angry with him, it was when she refused to acknowledge there was a problem. It was bothersome and frustrating but he'd let it be for now. In the meantime he could be equally exasperating.
"You listen. I think I'll have a read," he declared blithely.
Reaching into his inside pocket, he pulled out his notebook and pen then turned to the first page with a flourish. He saw Lisbon glance over then noted the way her hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter once she realised what he held. She remained silent, resolutely staring at the road in front of her but he could tell from the tensing of her posture that she was more than a little annoyed he'd brought it with him.
What did she honestly think he'd do? Leave it behind? Pretend that this wasn't one of the biggest leads he'd ever had to catch Red John?
He still couldn't quite believe that he'd actually met and shaken hands with the man who had killed his wife and daughter and not immediately seen it in his eyes. Known he was looking at the man who had made his life a living hell. That there hadn't been some kind of tell; that he hadn't noticed something.
He turned another page and looked at the list of names he'd written there then thought back to when he'd first met each one, trying to remember if there had been anything in their demeanour he'd missed. He did the same thing every day just hoping something would click. Some small insignificant twitch of the eye or hint of nervousness he'd forgotten. But nothing ever did.
They continued on, the occasional rustle of a page turning the only sound breaking the strained silence between them.
As time wore on, Jane determinedly tried to focus on the names but his gaze and thoughts kept straying to the woman beside him. He hated having this distance that had grown between them lately and for once in his life he wasn't sure how to broach the ever-widening chasm. He wasn't even certain that he should. It was for her own protection, wasn't it? Now he was so close to finding Red John, maybe it was better if he maintained this rift…however much it pained him to do so. What was a little more suffering in his life?
Then again, judging from the snide comments Lorelei made, his feelings for Lisbon weren't a secret from Red John anymore anyway. Probably hadn't been for a while. Was it worth even attempting to carry on the façade that he hadn't come to love this strong willed, stubborn, beautiful woman who remained doggedly by his side no matter what?
He certainly couldn't fool himself that she wasn't on the killer's radar any longer…and he had told her how he felt, even though he'd hedged like the emotional coward he was when she'd called him on it. Still, could he really put his fears for her safety aside enough to actually try and have some kind of relationship with her?
Push her away or keep her close? There wasn't even any contest. He couldn't do without her, it was as simple as that.
"I'm stopping for lunch," Lisbon said suddenly, interrupting his internal debate, as she pulled over into a well-known diner's parking lot.
Her sharp tone grated on his nerves and tugged at his heart. He knew that the reckless way he'd acted recently was to blame for her current behaviour. He saw the concern and worry in her eyes even though she did her best to cloak it with anger. He understood that she thought his obsession was spiralling fast out of control, making him do things that had her convinced that he still had no regard for his own life where catching the serial killer was concerned.
But she was wrong. Very wrong. More than anything he wanted to stay alive for her.
He shot the brunette another quick look then put his notebook and pen back in his jacket pocket. As miserable as it made him to think about it, he had to recognise that maybe this time he'd gone too far in his schemes and concealment. That even if he wanted to, he wouldn't be able to close the gap entirely between them. Perhaps never be that close to her ever again.
His stomach churned slightly at the sobering thought but it didn't deter him from wanting to try and rebuild that particular bridge.
Once they'd come to a halt, he undid his seatbelt and looked over to say something only to see that she had exited the vehicle almost before she'd got the keys out of the ignition. Apparently, his attempts were going to have to wait.
He got out and joined Lisbon and the rest of the team in the diner. Lunch was a reasonably quiet affair with both the senior agent and consultant remaining silent throughout much of it. A few concerned looks were exchanged between their colleagues but then Lisbon declared it was time to go and they all got up to dutifully obey.
Back on their way again, Jane let out a sigh and switched on the radio, station hopping until he found one that he liked. He settled back into his seat and hummed along to the nostalgic Dean Martin song under his breath as he watched the vibrant scenery fly by.
They had left the I5 and were on the 299 heading through Trinity National Forest. Tall evergreen trees lined the roadway as they got nearer to their destination.
Lisbon watched him covertly out the corner of her eye. She'd been so sure he'd open that wretched book of his the moment they'd returned to the car and the fact that he hadn't irritated her a little. Why couldn't he just be predictable for once?
"I thought you preferred reading to music?" she couldn't resist asking sardonically.
Jane turned his head to look at her, eyebrows raised at her unprovoked attack.
"Contrary to what you think, Lisbon, I didn't bring my notebook along just to annoy you," he replied evenly. "I merely wanted to keep it safe. For it to be near the people whom I trust implicitly."
"By people, you mean you, of course," she retorted derisively.
"And you. And the team," he added slowly; deliberately. He paused and stared at her a moment before continuing in a sombre voice, "No matter what has happened or may happen in the future, Lisbon, I always want you to remember that, OK? Promise me."
Taken aback at his admission, the agent chanced a glance at him and was further surprised by the sincere expression on his face. She saw it so rarely, especially nowadays, that the most she could manage by way of an acknowledgement as an awkward nod of her head. Jane seemed satisfied by her response, however, and went back to looking out of his window.
Lisbon drove on for a couple more minutes then suddenly let out a heavy sigh before offering in a very long suffering tone, "OK, I give up. Let's go through that list of yours again. Maybe one of those names will pop this time."
The blond immediately returned his gaze to her and after a few seconds of incredulous perusal he suddenly grinned. Needing no second word of encouragement, he quickly got out his book and eagerly rifled through a few pages before looking back over at her.
"Ready?" he asked, expectantly. Off her nod he smirked and read out the first name. "Walter Mashburn."
Lisbon rolled her eyes and tutted. She had a feeling the remainder of the trip would be a long one.
END CHAPTER 1